Battle of the Brand’s Identity: Miramax, Disney and Dimension Films

While Miramax may have been a pioneer of “indie” cinema its inceptions began with modest means as a distribution company in the year of 1979 and is traced till its eventual end in Alisa Perren’s book, Indie, Inc. Brothers Bob and Harvey Weinstein began using concert films to generate income and then quickly switched towards acquiring alternative films to both attract and control the market not already occupied by major production studios. They were ambitious in their scope when it came to purchasing rights to foreign and independent filmmaking. Even over the years their company remained ahead of the rest by adapting to the changing media landscape. Miramax wanted to combine both those films that had been marginalized by major studios, whether they were foreign or edgy, and present them as a foil to the mainstream films that audiences were accustomed too. In drawing out their difference and presenting them as such Miramax was able to establish a brand identity that would carry the company well into the future.

When sex, lies and videotape was released in 1989 it received acclaim at film festivals and attracted the attention of Bob and Harvey Weinstein. Miramax was intent on acquiring the film and pushed its marketing campaign as paramount to the success of the film. They were right. Miramax’s advertising technique was detailed and precise by “…declaring the film’s status as a festival award winner” and “…took advantage of the positive press response,” situating the film as both celebratory of art house standards and popular by mainstream means (Perren 34). The marketing went on to emphasis its sexual content through print and broadcast media by creating a film that “…facilitated a number of different readings of the film,” which in turn could attract a wider audience (Perren 36). The success of the film helped to establish Miramax as a distribution company that fosters the creation of edgy, exciting cinema. Miramax thus was able to establish itself as the premier and this wouldn’t be the last time they used the press, filmic content nor their brand to market their films. When Miramax acquired The Crying Game in 1993 they used controversy over the films plot lines, as well as the press’ spoiling of said plotlines, to build up the hype of the film which lead to a box office hit that attracted the attention of Disney, which bought the company in 1993.

The success of Miramax up to this point had been its ability to market its films to their specific audiences. Miramax was praised as a distribution company that upheld artistic expression of independent filmmakers and production companies that were ignored by the mainstream productions. Their role as the protector of the “indies was definitely called into question when Disney acquired Miramax, with some critics claiming that Disney’s oversight would impede on the creative ideals that Miramax had prided itself on upholding.

This issue would come to the forefront when Miramax wanted to distribute the controversial, sexually driven, drug addled adolescence film Kids. Disney had sustained an image of wholesome values over the years and critics were commenting on how the brand identities of both films clashed. There were internal disputes between both companies that resulted in Miramax creating another company to distribute the film that was nth degrees away from Disney so as to not cause any irreparable harm of Disney’s image. Miramax maintained its independence from Disney and drew a line in the sand of where they would allow Disney to intercede.

Scream

Found via CSFD.com

Miramax would further establish the brand identity of another offshoot company Dimension that would become known for its quality genres most notably Scream. When Scream was released in 1996 it had several key aspects that hinted at its future success. First, the film had casted high profile actress Drew Barrymore in a role and featured her heavily in promotional materials. Second, the film was released during the winter months competing as the alternative to family driven films during a time where teens and college students are off from school. The film celebrated a successful run in theaters due to it being violent, up to date with pop culture and youthfully oriented. For Dimension films, Scream was …”far more than just the resurgence of the horror film. Rather, it was used as an example of how a superior company had the ability to cultivate an exceptional brand of genre film” (Perren 137).

This belies the financial affordances that Dimensions has that other distribution companies don’t have, most notably in the casting of Drew Barrymore. While her character is brief in the film they use her extensively in the promotional promos. In the trailer she is the first character you see and her status as a main character is further built upon by her inclusion in the movie poster. It is ingenious to kill off an A-list actress in the first 10 minutes of the film and I give all kudos to Kevin Williamson for writing a brilliant scene but the question remains. Would Dimension have been able to acquire an A-list actress for a B-list drama were they not directly tied to Disney?

It soon wouldn’t matter as Miramax expanded its scope and went on to garner many Academy-Award nominations and several wins. While they were criticized for the campaigning for their nominated films and the company is no longer associated with Disney nor headed by the Weinstein brother’s nothing had changed during the course of their career. This quote by Weinstein is the earlier part of the book best summarizes their career goals.

“Although we market artistic films, we don’t use the starving-artist mentality in our releases. Other distributors slap out a movie, put an ad in the newspaper—usually not a very good one—and hope that the audience will find it by miracle. And most often they don’t. It’s the distributor’s responsibility to find the audience,” (Perren 33).

Whether it was sex, lies and videotape or Scream or its later films, Miramax had an uncanny knack for its advertising techniques. The success of the company, both critically and financially, elevated the “indie distributor” to a major media player and perhaps this is where the real issue lies. The brand identity that the Weinstein’s had created clashed with the identity that the public had created, signaling the end of Miramax


Perren, Alisa. Indie, Inc.: Miramax and the Transformation of Hollywood in the 1990s.: University of Texas Press, 2013. Print. Texas Film and Media Studies Series.

Featured image via planetterror.wikia.com

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